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Inside the fragrance industry’s shift in sustainability

March 19, 2021By Bethan Andrews

There’s still work to be done and we must commit to researching our purchases more, but there is a sustainable movement underway in the world of perfumery.

The last year has been a year of reset, a year of change and uncertainty, but a year of reflection and realisation for so many people. With so much time spent indoors, a new movement of prioritising wellbeing has risen and, with that, a renewed focus on scents, senses and our holistic reaction to them. It’s clear from looking at market reports that 2020, seemingly, boosted people’s love for fragrance. It also brought with it a shift in sustainability within the fragrance industry, with more and more people opting for natural scents and non-toxic (for both planet and people) ingredients.

In fact, according to a report by Allied Market Research, ‘the global fragrance ingredients market was valued at $13.6 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $16.1 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.8% from 2020 to 2027. Rise in demand for eco-friendly, natural, and custom-made perfumes along with higher standards of living are some of the key factors that are expected to drive the market growth during the forecast period.’ 

What’s more, as the report continued: ‘Based on type, the natural ingredients segment is expected to grow at the highest CAGR of 4.3% from 2020 to 2027, owing to preference of consumers toward therapeutic benefits of essential oils in aromatherapy and increase in spending on beauty and personal care products.’

But who is driving the change? Integrally, fragrance producers, as well as consumers, have been rethinking what it means to be sustainable, and the results can be seen in initiatives across the globe. From refill stations in stores and a move away from plastic (as in many other industries) to focus on recycling and re-using, to small-batch producing and a push toward using regulated natural ingredients within, there’s been big moves across the last year. 

We know that perfumery derived from plants traces back as far as ancient Egyptians and Persian history, so it’s perhaps no surprise that we are doing away with the synthetics and making a move back toward natural botanicals. 

Natural doesn’t always equate to sustainable, though. In fact, this is another huge problem in moving towards a cleaner and better planet. So, when it comes to fragrances, it’s worth exploring and researching at-risk botanicals to help you ensure that the natural ingredients all over a certain brands’ packaging isn’t simply green washing and contributing more to the wider sustainability problem. Endangered plants pose a great risk to the world, just as endangered animals do. Focus your attention on brands that steer clear of compromised flora and fauna. 

What’s great to see is that the younger generation are actually much more aware of green washing and the concept that natural doesn’t always mean good. Instead, younger people are more likely to research scientific alternatives that, although may be synthetic, are actually more sustainable in the long run. A recent report by London-based market research firm Mintel showed that they believe it doesn’t have to be about one or the other.  In fact, they believe that the way forward is to fuse science and nature. 

The shift in sustainability, then, is coming from brands developing new technologies to extract essential oils and create safer and cleaner synthetic alternatives. Chemical & Engineering News reported that: ‘Large fragrance and ingredient firms like Givaudan are developing nonendangered, sustainable sources of natural ingredients. At the same time, the company has launched a program to make the synthetic side of its business sustainable as well.’ Using a combination of both clean synthetics and natural extracts is likely the most sustainable route forward. Plus, it allows consumers a way of knowing how truly sustainable and ethical their chosen product is. 

Of course, it’s not just what goes into the product, packaging is a big part of the problem too. And it’s not just about the obvious culprits such as plastic, either. ‘The sound of the magnet in the cap of a perfume bottle, much like closing the door of the high-end car, is a mark of a truly luxurious brand. Funny how opulence always ends up being a bit problematic,’ says sustainable fragrance brand Bel Rebel, in response to how sustainable they can make their product. 

‘Did you know that if a perfume bottle cap contains a magnet you have to take it out before it can be recycled? We decided to make our caps without magnets to avoid this. It’s a small detail that makes being a bit less harmful to environment easier.’ 

So, to simplify it, what are the main factors you can consider and look out for to approach fragrance more ethically and support the industry’s shift in sustainability? Start with sourcing; research who makes the scent and where they source the ingredients. Look at the label and ensure you understand the origin and meaning behind each ingredient listed. According to a report by the EWG

‘A rose may be a rose. But that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may be something else entirely, concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s 3,100 stock chemical ingredients, the blend of which is almost always kept hidden from the consumer. Makers of popular perfumes, colognes and body sprays market their scents with terms like “floral,” “exotic,” or “musky,” but they don’t disclose that many scents are actually a complex cocktail of natural essences and synthetic chemicals – often petrochemicals.’

Consider your stance on social ethics too and research whether the brand does any work for social enterprises, as well as feeding into sustainable ingredients. Do some real digging and see if you can find a natural brand going the extra mile with regenerative efforts too. Lastly, check how the product is tested and ensure it’s not tested on animals. 

Want to have a try introducing sustainable scents into your home, but don’t know where to start? Here are some of our favourite brands for environmentally friendly and go-the-extra-mile fragrances. 

With a mission to harness the power of commerce for social good, this is a brand we’ve had our eye on for years. The brand produces clean and sustainable perfume and uses it as a vehicle for social impact and the economic empowerment of women. Sana Jardin is built on the principles of a circular economy – their alternative business model enables the women in their supply chain to become micro-entrepreneurs by up-cycling the waste products from perfume production.


Made in London and packaged using mushroom packaging created in the Netherlands, Bel Rebel experimented with unexpected ingredients to produce ethically-sourced, small batch fragrances.


Founded in Amsterdam by former winemaker and New Zealander Frances Shoemack in 2012, Abel is on a mission to blend the pleasurable world of perfume, with the conscious simplicity of nature. The unisex perfumes use only natural ingredients and, as a brand, they are on a mission to transform transparency on parfum labelling. You can find their petition here


Using 100% natural plant oils and tinctures, Sigil’s perfumes are hand-blended in Los Angeles and are gender-neutral. They don’t compromise on natural and choose only organic, wildcrafted, and sustainable materials.


This small-batch perfumery in Somerset is stripping perfume back to its artisan roots and extracting 100% pure fragrance oils from plants. They release four seasonal fragrances a year and, each season, they will blend just one bottle for each of the names on their production ledger. No more.